When you are surrounded by people whom you typically rely on, it is easier to imagine that politics is primarily about loyalty and not coercion. There are times when the pursuit of consensus is not what political occasion demands.
In his book ‘Where Power Stops’ David Runciman notes the eternal and inherent dichotomy of political leadership between rules of accountability and the law of unintended consequences.
As leaders, we can make conscious decisions to crystallise our defining moments - opportunities to do so present themselves daily. Failing to seize these opportunities is to take the opposite choice - to worry. The world may be upside down, but the unending slog continues nonetheless- an unevenly distributed but ubiquitous tragedy. But to lead, you must first lead yourself.
Freedom of choice brings with it the realisation of the ownership of choice. We can choose to lead, or we can choose to be led. If we choose to lead, we must also own the consequences of our leadership, even (or especially) if we cannot control the actions of others. Ideal situations are rare, now more than ever. But we can redefine ‘ideal situation’ if we choose to.
Milton Friedman opined that government is a necessity to preserve our freedom - it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom. Yet, the concentration of power in political hands is, conversely, and concurrently, a threat to our freedom. The nature of political office is such that it corrupts even those with noble intentions, and attracts those who with even less.
Living, as we do, in an age of relative liberty, it is easy to forget how recently our political freedoms have prevailed. The arch of human existence has, for the overwhelming part of history been under the yolk of various forms of oppression and injustice. There is an incontrovertible and growing chasm between the wealthiest and the neediest. Are we suffocating our future economic freedom with the emergence of a socialist society for most and a capitalist one for some? Could this be a direct consequence of that which we call political freedom? Wealth concentration is inevitable in a system which intrinsically links political and economic power. If the sheer promise of a better future starts to erode, then why should we make sacrifices and why should we stick to education for that matter?
How can we keep the government we create from becoming the devil incarnate that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Political freedom can be seen as the absence of coercion by our fellow citizens, fellow voters. The most fundamental threat to freedom derives from the power of coercion, whether by a dictator, malign oligarchy, or a transitory majority.
Many of those currently holding office, basking in their delusional grandeur in all impunity, whilst being bankrolled by the taxpayers, lack values, integrity, principles, and above all, a consistent commitment to social justice and fairness. Whilst some embody tribalism, others depend on dominance to gain and exert power. In the short term, for the electorate, this is gratifying and fulfilling - people get to see their leaders and representatives ‘move up’ thus giving them a sense of achievement, pride and success by proxy and for some the promise of unfettered gains and rewards.
Equally, those who have the most at stake in the consolidation and reinforcement of the government’s largesse are a ‘minority group’ who are now the object of distrust, hostility and suspicion of the majority, and fundamental differences in basic values can rarely if ever be decided at the ballot box.
A message to those in power. Accept the messiness, hypocrisy, mistakes, arrogance and poor governance. Was it not your promise to rid of those? What makes political leadership so hazardous is that it is relatively easy for voters. If we get tired of our politicians, we can get rid of them. The qualities that we once valued and cherished in a leader can turn surprisingly quickly into the qualities we inevitably end up despising.
On a final and cautionary note, let us remind ourselves that the Great Depression in the US, which resulted in significant political changes, should be testament on the damage and turmoil that can be brought by the faux pas of a few men wielding vast power over a country’s monetary system. And as quoted by Clemenceau, money is much too serious a matter to be left to Central Bankers, however intellectually accomplished. Ultimately, an effective way to destroy a society is to destroy its money.
Sadly, there is no glorious sun in sight, yet!